March 18, 1997 11:00 AM ET
For Cyrix, AMD: Two letters spell trouble
By Robert Lemos

  Cyrix Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. are learning that engineering is the easy side of product development these days.

Both companies find themselves again crossing swords with Intel Corp. in court as a result of their efforts to slice off a piece of the lucrative MMX microprocessor market.

The problem amounts to two letters. If Intel gets its way, both companies would have to recognize MMX as Intel's trademark and append TM to the names of their new microprocessors. Cyrix and AMD would then have to market their products as being "compatible with Intel's MMX(tm) technology," rather than as microprocessors with MMX.

Cyrix and AMD both claim that MMX became a generic term for multimedia extensions long before Intel attempted to trademark the name. "We have wheel barrows of documents showing this," remarked Russ Fairbanks, vice president and general consul for Cyrix.

How important this concession is depends on whom you ask. "We're talking about whether AMD will put three letters or five after the K6 chip's name," said Mike Feibus, a principal with Mercury Research Inc. "This is really a small part of the big picture."

None of the three semiconductor companies believe that the legal problems will delay their shipment of product. AMD still plans to release its K6 product on April 2.

Intel has no legal problems with the actual implementation of the chips. AMD licensed from Intel the information necessary to add the MMX functionality to its K6 chip. Cyrix has created its implementation of MMX from scratch.

Cyrix and AMD also are having legal problems on other fronts. On Friday, Germany granted Intel a restraining order preventing AMD from using MMX as a generic term for multimedia extensions. AMD has previously indicated its intention to put the MMX label on the K6 processor to avoid consumer confusion.

Meanwhile, Creative Labs Inc. announced yesterday its intention to sue Cyrix for false advertisement, trademark infringement and unfair competition in regards to Cyrix's claims about its Cyrix Media GX(r) chip set. According to Creative Labs, the suit alleges that Cyrix falsely claims the chip set is fully compatible with Creative Labs Sound Blaster hardware, and diagnostic programs will mistakenly identify the hardware as being Sound Blaster hardware.

Should they lose their newest legal squabble with Intel, Cyrix and AMD could wind up paying dearly. The wording of the suit leaves open the possibility that Cyrix and AMD may have to reimburse Intel to offset its investment in marketing the MMX technology.

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